Waiting for Jury Duty: Crowd Observation Notes

A curious fact about the crowd enduring the interminably long wait to be called for jury duty selection  at Brooklyn’s State Supreme Court building today was how its interactions slowly began to resemble those of passengers on an airliner stranded on an airport tarmac.

Before lunch, some folks had already dozed off (I had taken a nap myself thanks to a 0530 AM rising induced by my daughter’s wails); many others sported the ubiquitous pair of headphones (tinny notes of hip-hop, metal and dance music could be heard issuing from these);  some had laptops open on their, er, laps, and indulged in either entertainment or work; some played cards; and yet others read newspapers, books, and magazines.

It was a garden variety crowd in waiting; patient, occupied,  indulgent of the judicial system’s call on them to perform their civic duty. (The orientation video, though hokey in many ways, was also curiously moving in its sincerity.)

But after lunch, despite having sought and procured nourishment qualitatively and quantitatively better than that available on the floor’s vending machines, the mood was more disgruntled. Some, like me, wondered whether we’d be called for a second day of waiting (this query was loudly answered with indignant “No way!”s); some muttered about the wages lost for the day and refused to find solace in the news that they would be paid $40 per day of jury duty;  some veterans were telling war stories of much longer waits ‘back in the day’; one young man struck up a conversation with the young woman sitting next to him and seemed to be keeping her reasonably well entertained with his quip-a-minute manners. Little groups had started to form; boredom and exhaustion was writ large on most faces, threatening to turn at any time into full-blown irritation.

One gentleman paced about, complaining about how he had exhausted the bag of tricks he had bought with himself to keep himself entertained; his work was taken care of and he had finished reading his book. On hearing this, a young woman spoke up, “I can loan you a book to read if you want.” Our hero was suitably responsive, “Sure, what kind is it?” The young woman almost giggled, “Do you like Shakespeare? I have Romeo and Juliet if you want.” A little nonplussed, the seeker of  diversions quickly recovered, “Sure, what the heck, hand it over. I’ll give it a read.” The young woman beamed, reached into her bag, and did so.

An hour or so later, the master of ceremonies for the day walked out, pulled the microphone to her and wished everyone a good afternoon. The waiting throng answered in unison; it was like being back in grade school. When she made the announcement that we could go home, that we had fulfilled our jury duty service requirement for the next eight years, a loud cheer broke out.

A few minutes later, I had left the courthouse, my certificate of service secure in my backpack; my civic duties were done for the time being.

Childcare duties still remained, but at that moment, they seemed considerably less tedious.

6 comments on “Waiting for Jury Duty: Crowd Observation Notes

  1. Amyclae says:

    I happen to work at a courthouse. We do not mean to waste anyone’s time, but it’s inevitable. There’s always a heavy caseload at any trial court for a lot of reasons. And the only thing worse than keeping a jury pool we don’t need is sending a jury pool home that we do need. I think the best way to look at waiting is that ultimately there’s a big decision being made by someone regarding whether they accept a plea deal, do X number of years and X number of months on parole, or go to trial where they may get 10X years without parole or no time at all. A massive decision that really does have a lot more impact than inconveniencing someone’s day.

  2. Democracy is tedious and time consuming, but it’s also participatory and transparent. It sounds like you and everyone who showed up at the courthouse were reconciled to the situation and the importance of this civic obligation.

    • Samir Chopra says:

      Katherine,

      The mood was remarkably good the entire day – I agree. And like I said there was humor on show too – I liked how people were starting to bond as the day went on.

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